Chapter 468 – Strategising

Granin and I discuss a few things before we get down to the nitty gritty. For the most part I want to learn about his people and what makes them tick. He’s a little guarded about some things, but quite forthcoming about others. For instance, he’s quite happy to tell me why he’s on the outer with his Cult and with the Shapers in general. Supposedly there’s been quite a lot of moving and shaking going on within the Cult of the Worm lately. Recruitment has picked up over the last fifty years and the cult has risen to a level of prominence that it hasn’t enjoyed at any point in its history.

This influx of people, ideas and energy was always going to cause friction. Granin fell into the ‘steady and cautious’ camp, the group who wanted to consolidate their gains and take a measured approach, as they always had in the past. Being cautious is never a bad idea for a Cult that isn’t supposed to exist in the first place, I suppose. But he found that the ground changed under their feet too quickly, as the ‘reckless moron camp’ (Granin’s words) pushed harder than expected and seized control of the leadership.

[The stupid idiots are so willing to risk what’s been built by painstaking effort in the shadows.] Granin moaned to me bitterly. [What kills me the most, is that it’s people like me out in the field, loyal to the cause and dedicated, the bedrock of this cult, that get sent out and sacrificed on poorly thought out and badly researched tasks. The mission to capture you was a perfect example! No proper planning, no backup strategy, no thought of having full control of the delving party. Look how that nearly wound up! A disaster! Back in the day, we’d have observed, made gradual contact, felt out the situation to get a sense of fit. There sure as hell wouldn’t have been any warriors involved! Bloody meatheads.]

A constant refrain in Granin’s whining is how much the Shapers and Warriors don’t get along.

[Tell me a story here, Granin. Why is that your entire society glorifies the Warriors and takes a dump on the Shapers? Seems odd to me. Magic is both awesome and rad. Things like that gateway are only possible because of magic, so why the hate?]

I can see Granin consider the implications before he decides to answer me. He’s being careful not to give me too much information that I can use against him, but enough that I feel satisfied he’s working with me. I’m happy to take the trade, something is much, much better than nothing.

[It goes back to the Cataclysm.] He finally relents and answers me. [Back then, the mana started to rise to unprecedented levels and every society on the surface experienced a magic revolution. Mages were more powerful than they’d ever been before, or since, and they created miracles in that time that elevated the craft to unprecedented heights.]

[But then came the monsters,] I guess.

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 He nodded.

[Quite right. The Dungeon opened up and the world was destroyed. Us Golgari were always a martial people to begin with. Our natural skills and racial bonuses push us in that direction quite naturally. We’re large, I’m not even that tall, the biggest of us can get up to ten feet, heavily built, and our true skin provides us with a strong defence without having to invest in armour, allowing our fighters to focus on weapon skills more than other races. Since the rise of the Shapers was immediately followed by the Rending, the people naturally lay the blame at the Shaper’s feet, blaming them for bringing the Dungeon upon them and we’ve been scorned ever since.]

[But that’s stupid!] I protest. [The mana rose due to the Dungeon reaching the surface, not the other way round! Surely they know that!]

[They probably do,] Granin shrugs, [but they don’t care. It fits the narrative they want to believe, that’s all that matters. Ever since then the Warriors’ circle has been dominant in Golgari society and the Shapers have been suppressed. I think the Shapers have been pushed to the breaking point lately, which is why the Cult was able to bring so many into the fold.]

It’s an interesting situation. I can’t help but muse over it. In my mind, the Golgari empire occupies a vast amount of Dungeon territory no doubt connected by these gates. Without the Shapers, the whole thing would fall into a heap in mere days. Without the gates, the individual cities and outposts would need to travel between each other in order to communicate and share supplies, risking the Dungeon for days or weeks at a time to send the simplest message. Impossible, surely?

Not to mention, this kind of setup will be perfect for the colony! Satellite colonies, connected by magical gateways would allow us to cover more ground with less numbers. That’ll become critical since we need to ensure we farm the Dungeon carefully. Spawn points are closely associated with monster population, if we strip the tunnels bare of monsters in our greed, then the spawn points will dry up, leading to less monsters overall and a dramatic reduction in the XP intake of the colony. We have to be smart about it, farm the right amount, not too much, not too little.

To make this successful, we need to cover more territory! How to cover more territory without clearing out the Dungeon? Gates! GAH! My heart is on fire! If I can learn the secret of these gates then the colony will have a limitless future! I must uncover the secret!

[So Granin, tell me how the gates work?]

[No way.]

DAMMIT.

[Look. I don’t know why you’d even want to learn about that. Who are you going to use it with? Besides, we’ve spent enough time on these side issues. We need to get focused on how to prep you for your first fight.]

[Fine.]

I’ll wait, but don’t you dare think I won’t keep working on this!

[So, do you mind if I take a quick peek at your core?]

[No way.]

[I had a feeling that might be the case.]

Granin brings a hand up to rub his stony temple again. Poor guy must deal with a lot of headaches. As if I’m going to let him use a core manipulation Skill on me! He’d be mad to think I’d agree!

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[So we have to do this the old fashioned way,] he grumbles, [can you tell me what the focus of your build is?]

[Build what?]

[You’re kidding, right? Your build? Your skills and stuff?]

[Oh! You mean like, what am I aiming for with my stats and stuff?]

[Right. What’s your focus? Where are you putting in the most effort?]

[Yeah. I’m a bit of an all-rounder, I suppose.]

I mean, It’s better not to have something you can’t do, right? Cover all the bases, so to speak? Oh, Granin’s rubbing his temples again.

[Oh boy. Look, usually it’s way better to have a general focus for your build, a specific set of skills and mutations that you stack up to become as strong as possible, then you flavour around the edges. It’s about building synergy. You know what synergy is?]

[A conjunction or opposition?]

[No, that’s syzygy.]

[Then no.]

[It’s when things work together to produce an effect more powerful than the sum of its parts. Like, imagine a lightning monster, right? It develops a lightning mana gland which gives it access to free, premade lightning mana. Then it say, takes a teeth mutation that lowers lightning resistance. So when it bites something, its lightning becomes more effective. It’s a basic example, but that’s synergy.]

[I think I get it.]

[Right, and that’s only a basic, basic example. The same things can be done with Skills. There are Skills that support other Skills, as well as Skills that can work together with mutations. For example, think about that bite mutation we had, you could take the Skill Curse Infliction which would make you better able to apply a curse through your bite, lowering the resistances further. Most people don’t know that it works with Bite mutations, it took the Cult ages to work it out. Then you could take a toxin mutation which applies a toxin which lowers lightning resistance applied through the bite, then take the Toxin Mastery Skill which allows you to better inject toxins. With a single bite you can slash one elemental resistance by as much as thirty percent, even at low levels!]

[That sounds…. Really impressive actually.]

This is good stuff. The Sophos were never so explicit when explaining these sorts of concepts. Their focus was mainly on the techniques and mastery of manipulating cores, I think they just assumed I would know about maximising gains from appropriate builds! I’ve been so blind!

[Teach me more, Master!]

[Oh, so now you’re impressed? We’ve been studying this stuff for over a thousand years. This is just the beginning. The unfortunate thing is, we have hardly any research on ant type monsters. I went to the archive this morning and had a look. Pretty much blank.]

[What?! That’s morally wrong! Discrimination!]

[Well. Ants are considered a huge menace in the Dungeon which can get rapidly out of control, so they pretty much get exterminated whenever they’re found. Keeping a Queen captive is probably too much of a risk, and keeping an individual worker isn’t worth the effort, so you can understand why we never bothered.]

[I suppose so…]

Please don’t exterminate my family!

[But that’s fine. Other insect types have been researched to death. I’ve got full lists of skills and mutations for most of your body types, so let’s work through this.]

[Okay then.]

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